HALAL says too late to return to manual system ; suggests 3 “lifesavers”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) –  The Halalang Marangal (Halal) Convenors led by former Senator Wigberto Tanada wrote  the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last Friday saying it is “very late in the day to return to the old manual system which may not save us either (because) it will simply mean business-as- usual for the cheats.”

But the group has suggested three “safety mechanisms”  to help reduce if not eliminate the risk of failure of the automated election system (AES):  unique PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scanner) identifiers made public; 29  election returns (ER) pre-printed  before any transmission, and a 100% manual audit of the votes for president before proclaiming any winner.

Halal said airplanes and ships are required by law to carry life vests and life boats, even if these are superfluous most of the time because air and sea accidents are rare. “They are there not only
to assuage passenger concerns, but also because of the lives they will save in those rare events when they are needed. Similarly, we ask the Comelec for the following safety mechanisms.”
Halal wants Comelec to assign every scanning machine and its associated precinct cluster a “simple unique identifier and widely disseminate this information to the public.”
“Why? Because this will make the PCOS machines more accountable, just as vehicles with license plates, or policemen with visible name plates, are more accountable. It empowers the voting public better when they know exactly the individual machine they are dealing with, making it easy to identify errant machines, send reports, complaints, etc,” Halal said.
It added that the unique identifiers of all machines in a polling center “must be conspicuously displayed outside the center, in big characters.”
The ID of each PCOS must also be conspicuously displayed in the room where the machine is located. “A unique identifier, known by all, is a fundamental requirement in any automation project,” the letter said.

The unique PCOS IDs, Halal said, must be quickly added to the COMELEC Project of Precincts (POP), which is the master list of all polling precincts. The updated POP must be made available to the media and the public on a compact disc (CD), for quick copying and dissemination.

Halal also said that if  a unique ID per PCOS already exists, then all that  COMELEC needs to do is to “publicize them widely.”
Halal said  Smartmatic is apparently using a Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU) system that uses seven digits for internal control. “This is enough. The important thing is that the identifiers are unique per machine, that they are consistently used in all official lists and ERs, and that they are publicly known and, on election day, conspicuously displayed outside polling centers and in the precincts,”  the letter added.
Halal’s convenors aside from Tanada are Francisco Gudani, a retired general, now Halal President; former Comelec Commissioner Mehol K. Sadain; Isagani Serrano, president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement; Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors; TOYM awardee Ma. Paz Luna; and Roberto Verzola, Halal Secretary General.
Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, Executive Director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance
Halal’s second suggestion is for Comelec to “authorize election inspectors to print before transmission 29 of the 30 Election Returns (ERs).

The reason is “to make as many copies of the precinct results as possible, before the connection with a central server and its associated possibility that the authentic PCOS data may be overwritten with false data from the server during transmission.”
Halal said printing additional copies will remove any cause for PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting)  and NAMFREL (National Movement for Free Elections),  Nacionalistas and Liberals, or national and local candidates of the same party, to dispute who should get ER originals.
“There may not be enough with eight copies, there will be enough with 29 copies. With so many copies of the original ER circulating, suppressing the truth will be much harder,” Halal said.
The printed ER should contain the machine’s unique ID. The ER originals can now go to more political parties, election watchdogs, media organizations, and other accredited civic groups.

Halal suggests that the 30th copy of the ER, printed after transmission, “should be immediately read aloud by the BEI so that everyone who had received an earlier copy may make sure that their copy is identical with the 30th copy. If not, then the transmission has compromised the election results in the PCOS memory as well as the 30th copy. These, and the electronic ER copy just transmitted to the central servers, must now be presumed to contain false data and must be questioned. This must be noted in the minutes. But the 29 original ERs still contain the authentic  data.”
The third proposal  of Halal is for Comelec to authorize “a 100% manual audit of the votes for president” as a “final check on the accuracy of the PCOS count, for the same reason that a bank teller still manually counts bills after they have been counted by a machine.”
Halal said the Comelec “reverted to a 100% manual audit of ballot authenticity after it was discovered that the high-speed printing caused 1-2 mm misalignment which resulted in the inaccurate scanning of the UV security mark. For exactly the same reason, we need a 100% manual audit of the votes, to find out if a similar misaligment of ovals due to high-speed printing also resulted in the inaccurate scanning of  marks. Without the PCOS feature that allows each voter to verify if his choices were correctly registered by the machine, a 100% manual audit is our only remaining option to check the scanning and counting accuracy of the PCOS. Earlier proposals that have been raised for a 100% manual audit covering three positions only were in the right direction. Our counsel to limit further the coverage of the audit to the president is meant to streamline the process even more, by making possible a very simple manual method .”
The method is as follows: “the BEI will first count the ballots, and then sort them into separate stacks, one stack per presidential candidate. The stacks should be double-checked by individual watchers and elections watchdogs. The BEI will then count in public, aloud, the ballots in each stack. If the counts are correct, then the total of the counts will equal the number of ballots. If no
discrepancy is found, we estimate that this method will take no more than one hour. If a discrepancy is found, it may take another half hour to confirm the accuracy of the manual count.”

Halal said in some countries, “after voting closes, all ballots for one electoral jurisdiction are transported to a big hall or covered court, authenticaled, and then dumped on the floor. ‘Scrutineers’ then sort the ballots into stacks, one candidate, one stack. Double-checked, of course. If the contest is not very close, the heights of the stacks will show before the counting starts – even before the sorting is over – who won as member of parliament in that jurisdiction. On the same night, winners in most jurisdictions would be known, as well as the majority party if any, and then of course the prime minister – a clean and honest count, without automation.”

Halal stressed that “extra care must be taken to make this manual audit 100% accurate, because it will serve as the standard against which the accuracy of the PCOS machine will be measured.
The stacks and the final vote counts must be checked several times to detect and correct any errors. The results of this manual count of votes for president, including the total votes and any discrepancy in the totals, must be appended to the printed ERs and countersigned by the BEI. The results of the manual count will also be entered in the minutes. They should be taken into account before any winner is proclaimed. After all,  the term of outgoing elected officials will end only in June 30. There no need to rush any proclamation.”
Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, Executive Director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance and convenor of Kusog Mindanaw told MindaNews he agrees with Halal’s proposal.
Fr. Mercado sent a copy of Halal’s letter to the kusogmindanaw loop. He said Comelec “can do this at no expense because Namfrel offers to do parallel counting if given the fourth copy of the ERs. Comelec does not want another billing so gave the fourth copy to PPCRV for safekeeping in the storage”  (MindaNews)